'Sea swimming is my outlet for self-care'

Public health nurse, Audrey Burkley, has been sea swimming for just five years but has completed some of the most challenging marathon crossings in the world. EMMA CONNOLLY talks to her about the life-changing hobby as well as challenges past and future
'Sea swimming is my outlet for self-care'

IN THE SEA: Audrey Burkley from Blackrock, Cork swimming at Myrtleville.  Picture Dan Linehan

A CORK woman who is helping to care for her elderly father who suffers from dementia says that sea swimming is her saviour.

And she is urging the thousands of other carers in the country to take up some form of activity so their own health is protected.

Audrey Burkley, a public health nurse from Blackrock, has only been sea swimming for five years but has so far completed some of the most challenging marathon crossings in the world.

She has plans to conquer more in 2020 and says sea swimming is something everyone, regardless of their age, can enjoy.

Her achievements so far include being part of a five-woman relay team to swim the notoriously unforgiving North Channel, the English Channel, Catalina Channel and Alcatraz.

The 48-year-old only started swimming to avoid surgery for a hip injury but now it’s become everything to her as her life has changed dramatically due to her dad’s condition.

PROTECT YOUR HEALTH: Audrey Burkley from Blackrock, Cork ,swimming at Myrtleville. She began sea swimming just five years ago.	Picture: Dan Linehan
PROTECT YOUR HEALTH: Audrey Burkley from Blackrock, Cork ,swimming at Myrtleville. She began sea swimming just five years ago. Picture: Dan Linehan

“My father has dementia so all the family are involved in his care and with the assistance of a Home Help five mornings a week and Meals and Wheels.

“I find looking after my father very tiring as both my brother and myself work full time and my sister calls at lunchtime week days. It is so hard to see him forgetting things. My life now has changed but caring for my father is so important to me.

“But to de-stress I need to swim, and I feel great afterwards as it gets the adrenaline going.”

Audrey pointed out that that there are 55,000 people living with dementia and that 11 people per day are diagnosed with the condition.

“It is my duty of care and that of my family to look after our father to the best of our capabilities and keep him at home for as long as is possible,” she said.

“My mother died of ovarian cancer when she was only 60.”

Outside of caring for her dad, it’s been a tough year for Audrey.

“I came down with pneumonia myself and ended up having to be admitted to hospital.

“Things could have been a lot worse if I had not taken the flu vaccination. I work as a school vaccination public health nurse so I understand the importance of vaccination,” she said.

But on a more positive note she ticked off some more swims from her bucket list.

AT HOME: In September, Audrey swam from the Port of Cork to Cobh.
AT HOME: In September, Audrey swam from the Port of Cork to Cobh.

“On September 1, I achieved my dream, swimming from the Port of Cork to Cobh in the line of St Coleman’s Cathedral which according to Google Earth is 16km.

“I had to get permission from the Port of Cork as you are swimming down a shipping channel.”

She’s now training towards her next challenge in July, 2020, which is to swim Windermere — a large lake in Cumbria’s Lake District National Park, north-west England, and cover a distance of 10.5 miles.

She was part of an invite-only training camp run by legendary marathon swimmer Ned Denison during the summer which wasn’t for the faint-hearted.

“The highlight for the week was the torture swim, which I enjoyed as this prepares you psychologically for when you are doing a long swim.

“Different challenges are set for the swimmers. I was asked for my goggles to be handed over without touching the boat. As I was trying to do that the boat man drove in circles around me so I had to sprint and the fumes were overpowering but it was all good training!

“Then, while I was waiting for my goggles, I was asked to swim over the bank and scramble onto a cluster of rocks, stand up and collect some seaweed and swim back. A bit like a free skin treatment!

“There’s more — when my goggles were returned they were covered in grease and I asked to swim to the yacht. I could not see a thing and had to use my togs to remove the grease. It was all great experience!”

At a time when the benefits of sea swimming are well recognised, and people ponder new year resolutions, Audrey insists that anyone can learn to swim at any age.

“Start with the pool first and build up your confidence with swimming lessons. Once you are competent in the pool then try and venture into the sea.

“Just always remember with sea swimming to swim with company, wear a safety float around your waist and make sure the location is safe for swimming.

“Take into account the weather and the tides and the sea conditions can change so quickly.”

ABROAD: Last summer, Audrey took part in the famous swim from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco.
ABROAD: Last summer, Audrey took part in the famous swim from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco.

For Audrey, her daily swim is essential.

“Any of the stressors of the day disappear as I swim, stretching out my arms, gliding along and being mindful of the nature around me.

“All of us at some stage in our lives have to look after someone close to us.

“Caring for this person when working full time can affect our own emotional and physical health, and swimming is my outlet for self-care,” she said.

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